A Great Find

In the early 1970s there was a college graduate (let’s call him David) who celebrated his graduation with a backpacking trip around the world. His parents insisted that he begin his trip with a stop at our ancient homeland, Israel. Like thousands of fellow travelers, David found himself at the Western Wall where a rabbinic figure appeared and asked David if he would be interested in learning about his history and heritage. David answered “yes,” and together they walked to a Yeshiva/Talmudical Academy where David proceeded to study Talmud for the next week; until he left and travelled to India to continue his journey. He arrived in Bangalore and visited an Ashram to study spirituality and achieve more peace and truth in his life.

Our Parsha this week, Ki Teytzey, contains more Mitzvot (good deeds) than any other Parsha - a whopping 74. Prominently featured towards the beginning of the Parsha is the Mitzvah of Hashavat Aveidah- Returning a Lost Object.

Deuteronomy 22:1

לֹֽא־תִרְאֶה֩ אֶת־שׁ֨וֹר אָחִ֜יךָ א֤וֹ אֶת־שֵׂיוֹ֙ נִדָּחִ֔ים וְהִתְעַלַּמְתָּ֖ מֵהֶ֑ם הָשֵׁ֥ב תְּשִׁיבֵ֖ם לְאָחִֽיךָ׃ 

If you see your fellow Israelite’s ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it; you must take it back to your peer.

Although this verse specifies oxen and sheep, verse three widens the obligation to include any type of lost object:

Deuteronomy 22:3

וְכֵ֧ן תַּעֲשֶׂ֣ה לַחֲמֹר֗וֹ וְכֵ֣ן תַּעֲשֶׂה֮ לְשִׂמְלָתוֹ֒ וְכֵ֣ן תַּעֲשֶׂ֗ה לְכׇל־אֲבֵדַ֥ת אָחִ֛יךָ אֲשֶׁר־תֹּאבַ֥ד מִמֶּ֖נּוּ וּמְצָאתָ֑הּ לֹ֥א תוּכַ֖ל לְהִתְעַלֵּֽם׃ {ס}         

You shall do the same with that person’s donkey; you shall do the same with that person’s garment; and so too shall you do with anything that your fellow Israelite loses and you find: you must not remain indifferent.

The Babylonian Talmud tractate Bava Metziah devotes the entire second chapter to the intricacies of the laws of Lost and Found. These include but are not limited to what has to be returned, how to return it, the responsibility to safeguard the item until the owner is found, what to do if the owner dies or cannot be found.  Fascinatingly, these laws are often the first taught to Middle Schoolers when they begin their voyage into Talmud Study. The laws are many, and they have served our nation well over millennia to insure a just and moral society.

To his Talmud instructor’s surprise and glee, David returned to Jerusalem to continue his studies just three months after he left. David was animated, motivated, and engrossed in his studies with an intensity he did not exhibit the first time.

At the end of the class, the rabbi invited David to remain behind and asked him what had taken place during the three months he was away. David shared that he heard of an Ashram in India that had a reputation for moral and ethical excellence, so he enrolled. After meditating in silence, learning ancient chants, and engaging in the pursuit of historic Eastern Wisdom, he thought he found his place. Until one day he was walking with some senior students throughout the local town when they happened upon a wad of cash folded neatly in a wallet with credit cards and a drivers license. Much to David’s surprise, one of them picked up the wallet, retrieved the money and discarded the wallet. David asked his colleague why he did so, and the colleague remarked with a smile that there is an ancient adage that supports his behavior: Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers.

When David returned to his dormitory, he began to remember the Torah and Talmud lessons he encountered in Jerusalem from our Parsha, and decided to return to Jerusalem to continue his Torah Studies and learn more about his heritage.

Here at Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey, we honor and celebrate our revered heritage and aim to share it with all who enter our doors and platforms. Whether through publications, classes, festivals, camp or Jewish cultural activities, we invite you to join us to find your portal of entry to the world of Jewish thought, life, and culture.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Epstein 

Community Scholar in Residence